Halfway through my first year teaching, a new student joined my classroom. I still remember my confusion: it was no secret that our South Bronx school was a low-performing one, and that my student’s previous school had a better track record. I wondered why her parents had moved her.
I received my answer during a parent-teacher conference. “We moved here so that we could own a home,” her mother said. She shook her head and breathed deeply: “But I’m not sure my children’s education was worth it.”
All parents are tasked with making important decisions on their kids’ behalves. But without the power to change their neighborhood schools, low-income and minority parents consistently find themselves in essentially a “no-choice” scenario, forced to decide between financial security and a great education for their kids.
My parents, for example, did not experience the pride of home ownership until I was 20 years old. Until then, our family lived in an apartment complex in suburban New Jersey so that my parents could send my siblings and me to a good public school. In turn, we could eventually to college.
Their decision cost them a sense of accomplishment, but they refused to gamble with their children’s education.
Decisions like theirs are considered routine, but they shouldn’t be. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between home ownership and providing their children with a great education. We know there is a positive correlation between property value and school quality, a correlation that penalizes families without the means to live in an affluent area.
It’s been 20 years since my parents moved into the apartment complex where I spent my childhood. Yet families throughout New York continue to struggle so they can provide their children with the excellent education they deserve.
I see that sacrifice every day, when some of my students wake up at 5 a.m. and endure hour-long subway rides to attend our school. At what point will families have the ability to send their children to great schools without damaging their financial stability and overall happiness? At what point will kids—regardless of where they live—have access to equal education?
Tamara Gilkes is a 2012 School Reform Blogging Fellow for NYCAN. She teaches sixth- and seventh-grade science at Achievement First Bushwick Middle School. Outside of the classroom, Tamara advocates with Educators 4 Excellence to include teachers in school policy decisions. She previously served as a Teach for America corps member in the South Bronx.